The world's cities are responsible for 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, but are also likely to produce many of the solutions to climate change. Many cities have far more ambitious environmental aims than do national governments. But how are they to be met?by Matthew Lockwood / December 22, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
Cities lie at the heart of our climate change dilemmas. Half the world’s population now lives in cities, a figure set to rise to 80 per cent by 2050. Big concentrations of people make vulnerable targets for climate disasters. These will be not only sudden and dramatic (Hurricane Katrina) but also slow and insidious (Shanghai struggling with salination from rising sea levels).
If towns and cities are on the front line of climate change impacts, they are also central to it causes. Cities, after all, are the ultimate “final consumer” of energy, using an estimated 75 per cent of the world total, in transport, construction, industry, and in the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings. Responsible for 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, urban centres also have enormous ecological “footprints,” as they suck up food and resources from their surrounding regions.
Yet in theory, cities should produce many of the solutions we need, both in adapting to the changes and in cutting further emissions. As Nicky Gavron, deputy mayor of London, says, cities have both the motivation and the opportunity to tackle climate change. Learning happens fastest in cities, and city dwellers are more likely to be open to political messages about climate change. Moreover, in the developed world, city dwellers are lower per capita users of energy and bigger users of public transport than suburb or country dwellers.